Startup Gets to the Root of Network Problems

BURLINGTON, MASS. (03/23/2000) - Vigilant Networks says its performance management probe acts like Superman: It uses X-ray eyes to spot problems normally invisible to other monitoring tools.

The startup firm recently announced Big Tangerine, a network monitoring hardware package located on an Ethernet network that oversees the performance of everything from internetworking equipment and cables to wall plates and network interface cards. The idea is to provide users with real-time network availability and throughput monitoring capabilities while helping detect problems that may take down the network.

Vigilant claims that up to 50 percent of all network performance problems are caused by factors that aren't necessarily visible by just examining IP headers.

To set it apart from competitors such as Concord or NetScout, Big Tangerine can detect these factors, such as noise and faulty cabling, that can affect a network's physical media.

Big Tangerine can discover these performance inhibitors with its so-called "Gigasampling" technology, which can read and analyze the wavelengths of network traffic running through Ethernet cables. The company's approach is to analyze network traffic as an electrical signal, says Bruce Lynskey, vice president of marketing at Vigilant.

One network engineer at an e-commerce company who asked not to be identified says Big Tangerine is an effective way to detect outside interference on the network. "Anybody that has purchased a sniffer or remote monitoring specification product needs one of these, in my view," he says. His company has been testing Big Tangerine and using it to perform tasks such as discovering elevator motor noise. Typically, an application running on a host can't do the detection Big Tangerine can.

Big Tangerine is made up of two parts. Samples of network traffic are taken by Big Tangerine's probe, the 24-port Media Interface Unit (MIU), which looks like a small switch and attaches to the network cable in the rack unit in places of high congestion, such as between a server and an Ethernet switch.

The probe gathers and passes samples of traffic, via a dedicated cable, to Big Tangerine's Data Acquisition Unit (DAU), a Windows-based appliance about the size of a microwave oven. The DAU drills into the samples, and measures items such as the voltage and timing of the signals. It then performs an electromagnetic analysis of the data and can identify faulty traffic. By analyzing the faulty signal's characteristics, Vigilant claims it can detect the cause of the malfunction.

For instance, the DAUcan see if a bottleneck is the result of cross-talk, interference from two cables being too close together, elevator noise or other factors. Big Tangerine can also read the headers of IP packets inside an Ethernet frame and detect if there is a problem related to, say, a router with a malfunctioning port.

After installation, Big Tangerine automatically discovers the region of the network it is monitoring and creates a map. If the region is bordered by a router at one end and a switch at the other, the map will list all cabling, patch cords and ports on both devices, including their IP addresses. If a problem develops on a port on a router, the section on the map that represents the port will change color. Users can view the map via a Windows-based browser.

Data can also be forwarded to standard management programs such as HP's OpenView via SNMP commands.

At maximum configuration, one DAU will support up to 16 MIUs for 384 ports total. It requires one port on the MIU to analyze traffic from one port on a device or server.

Big Tangerine is available now and starts at $25,

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